Friday, July 3, 2009


"COTTAGE NEAR WELLS" - Helen Allingham
How is your summer going? I can't believe June is already over and tomorrow is the Fourth of July!
After a bitterly cold and extremely snowy winter, flooding in the spring and unusually cool temperatures and torrential rains through the first two weeks of June, summer is finally here.
The prairie is as green as the hills of Ireland, the temperatures are balmy, the air is laden with the scents of my hardy shrub roses and the breezes are mere zephyrs. The mosquitoes have made their presence known only in the past few days.
"THE GIRL AT THE GATE" - Sir George Clausen
So far this summer I have marked my 60th birthday and observed my 35th wedding anniversary. I am still processing these two events and will mark them as milestones in a later post. Note that I did not write "celebrated". Dan forgot my birthday, so he has been in the dog house for a week.
Gracie is out of the dog house, as she has been very good lately. Now that the weather is nice she spends most of the time outdoors. She has worn paths all along the perimeters of the yard. There is Maggie the mutt to run the fence with on the north side, Daisy the golden doodle to bark at across the alley to the south, and Ollie the golden retriever and his springer spaniel pal to sniff noses with at the west fence.
Gracie also has established sentry posts at the two east gates which face the street. When the patio door is open, she can spot a passerby at the southeast gate, tear into the house to view him or her passing the living room window, tear to the bedroom to view that passing, then tear out of the house to the northeast gate for one final look before the person passes out of sight. All this is accompanied either by barking or else by a nervous, agitated moaning which I find hilarious.

Note the older lady on the left spreading linens on the hedge. (Click to enlarge.)
And me, I'm reading like a fiend and have been going through books at a rate of one every day or two. If the afternoon is fair and Dan is working late, I can sit on the deck and read until 9 p.m. with only a break for a sandwich. Occasionally I will lift my eyes to watch the sun slanting through the greenery, listen to the neighborhood kids or check on Gracie. When she has tired herself out from tearing around the yard, she naps on the deck by my feet.
In my efforts to be thrifty, I have re-discovered the joys of finding second-hand books. I can usually find a book for $3.00 or less at a used bookstore, and thrift store books are even cheaper - as low as 50 cents.
In recent years, I have been reading mostly trade paperbacks. I know I will seldom be disappointed with a trade, and I still look for them at the above-mentioned places, as well as rummage sales. But I've also discovered books I would have otherwise overlooked. Two such books I just finished reading are "Thale's Folly" by Dorothy Gilman and "Shadows on the Ivy" by Lea Wait.
"Thale's Folly" is written by the author of the Mrs. Pollifax series, which I have known about forever but never read. Because I enjoyed this book so much, I will be looking for a Mrs. Pollifax book. "Shadows on the Ivy" is "An Antique Print Mystery", in which the main character is a antiques dealer who specializes in old prints. At the time this book was published, Wait had also written two other antique print mysteries, "Shadows on the Coast of Maine" and "Shadows at the Fair." I'll be looking for those too.

"THE EDGE OF THE WOODS" - Elizabeth Stanhope Forbes
Last December, when I was ordering books for Christmas gifts on, I found an inexpensive hardcover copy of "The Illustrated Lark Rise to Candleford" and snapped it up. I already had the Penguin Classic paperback of LRTC, but I just had to order the illustrated copy because it features some of the best Victorian paintings of a bygone era. (All of the paintings on this post are from the book.) When the book arrived, I put it aside, as I knew this was a book to savor in the summertime.
LRTC is actually a trilogy of three books written by Flora Thompson: "Lark Rise", "Over to Candleford" and "Candleford Green". The illustrated edition condenses the second and third books, but since book one is my favorite, this did not bother me. (What does bother me is that the paintings - and actual black and white photographs - aren't attributed until the end of the book, and since there are dozens of them, one has to continue flipping to the back page to find the information.)
"LEAVING HOME" - Henry Herbert La Thague
(Above: People usually walked everywhere. The rare sight of a pony and trap attracted many onlookers!)
LRTC depicts the life in the English countryside in the bucolic, pastoral days before the Industrial Revolution changed the face of England forever. And thus its attraction for me, an Anglophile who is drawn to those times. The frontispiece of the book calls Lark Rise "Perhaps the most vivid, detailed and immediate portrait of country life ever written." The book is largely autobiographical, although Flora calls herself Laura in the book, and has changed the name of her Oxfordshire village of Juniper to Lark Rise.
In LRTC, the cottagers are poor, but not impoverished. Thompson describes the children as sturdy and healthy, though few (unlike Laura) are ever given milk to drink. She also describes the inhabitants as almost universally happy. (I did take her writings with a grain of salt. Thompson wrote the book when she was older, and age may have lent a rose-colored tinge to her memories.)
"GATHERING FIREWOOD" - Helen Allingham

In addition to the text, paintings and photos, the pages include old woodcuts, and facsimiles of pressed flowers, herbs and leaves. The paintings of Helen Allingham, perhaps the best known English cottage/garden painter, are heavily featured. These cottagers, with very limited resources, grew front-yard gardens more beautiful than we modern-day gardeners could hope to imagine.
Most likely, Thompson's descriptions of the homes, gardens, local flora and fauna and landscapes are what drew me to the book in the first place, but she also outlines the daily life of the villagers as they go about farming, housekeeping and cooking, visiting, celebrating holidays and going to "town". She also peppers the book with interesting "characters" of all sorts.

"THE MOWERS" - Sir George Clausen

I would have liked to find more paintings to illustrate this post, but searched the Internet in vain. With the exception of Helen Allingham paintings, the publishers must have used works by lesser-known painters, or else lesser-known works of famous Victorian painters. I would have loved to have included "The Lacemaker", showing a young girl plying a craft now all but forgotten, and "Scaring Birds", a funny painting of a young boy trying to smoke out pesky birds from garden or field.

"MAY DAY GARLANDS" - T. F. Marshall

I wish I would have been able to see England in that long lost time, to have tea with the cottage women, walk the woods for wildflowers, sit by a pure babbling brook or visit with Old Sally, Miss Lane and Sir Timothy. I would like to make May Day wreaths with the children and romp with them as they spent all day outdoors (unlike our kids), and watch the grain being reaped and harvested by hand in the haze of a late summer day.

Thompson was called "a dunce" by her country school teacher, but, as the book jacket says, "Flora possessed the literary gifts, the eye and memory, for everyday detail and the intimacies of experience, which would one day combine to produce this gentle masterpiece."
Lark Rise was made into a miniseries by the BBC, but I have not viewed it. I understand there is also a "Lark Rise Recipe Book" with accompanying "Cook's Notebook".

Thompson as a young woman
Flora Thompson was born in 1877. LRTC is set mostly in the 1880s and 1890s, as Laura grows from child to young woman. As the books progress, the scope enlarges from the village to encompass the hamlet, setting of the the village school, and the market town, where the post office was located. (Like Laura, Thompson went to work at the post office at age 14.)
During this remarkable time, there was a great transition in the English countryside. Home life, methods of schooling, work and social interactions all changed drastically in the last years of the 19th century.
Thompson married young and later wrote mass-market fiction to help support her family. She wrote the LRTC trilogy while in her 60s, from 1939-1943. These were the worst years of WWII for British people. I think that it is no coincidence, therefore, that Thompson may have romanticized that lost world of rural Victorian England. But I also think she was the keenest of observers with the strongest of memories, and well worth reading.


Bimbimbie said...

I loved the BBC drama series - my mother recorded it and mailed it over knowing I'd enjoy it.

Managed to get the May Savidge book, the Englishwoman who moved her cottage. Hubby is reading it first and says she was amazing, clever and very eccentric.

Sending you belated birthday greetings ... and congrats on your 35th WA - how long till Dan gets released from the dog house?

Enjoy the rest of your summer with nose in books dear Julie. Smiles*!*

Kim Campbell said...

Happy Birthday and Happy Anniversary!

I'm glad one family member made it out of the doghouse! *wink*

Odette Bautista Mikolai said...

See, forced retirement have its benefit, no? now you can indulge on the things you like most- reading.
i can almost picture you sitting in a porch with a book w/c is like an invisible portal that sucks you in and you're in a different universe visible only to you.

lovely, isn't it? it's not like knitting or painting or playing video games. the images, people, places are all within the space of your mind. and outside, you appear still and silent, lost to this world but ever so absorbed in another.
enjoy the adventure!!!

Anonymous said...

I do like to congratulate you on your beautiful numbered birthday abd your wedding anniversary. Hartelijk Gefeliciteerd !
I like reading about your reading. Keep going and a great summer to you too to make up for lost sunny days, don;t you think...
Be well
Godeliva van Ariadone

JoAnn ( Scene Through My Eyes) said...

Happy birthday a little late.

What an interesting and charming post today - as always - very enjoyable.

LW said...

Belated Happy Birthday and Happy Anniversary!

I saw the first few BBC LRTC
but decided I wanted to read the book first.
Hubby’s family is very English; Yorkshire pudding was a Sunday dinner staple in his house.

I enjoy reading your book reviews; I hope you share more…

Happy Fourth of July …


Leanne said...

belated birthday wishes julie!

I have the same copy of LRTC as you!(and the recipe book!) Yes, the BBC has televised the books, the adaptations, as usual, dont follow the books very accurately, but are very watchable, nonetheless. Theres been two series now, plus a one off xmas special I think? maybe you'll be able to get a dvd that will play in the US?

Leanne x

gma said...

Fantastic art in this post. Helen Allingham's work is great! I read LRTC on the recommendation of Sheila. Have not read the others in that series. You are a prolific reader. Wish I could keep up with you on that. Always look to you to find a new book to read. Several of your favs on on my list!
Happy 4th!

Ruthie Redden said...

Happy birthday & anniversary (belated) julie! larkrise is a a wonderful read, ( apresent given to me many moons ago by my grandmother) i often think i was born in the wrong time!!

Bimbimbie said...

Happy 4th July*!*

Chris said...

I have had the book for years, but get it from the book shelf and read it again on many occasions. I love the pictures. When I was about 11 years old I used to stay with a friend in her Grans cottage in a Lincolnshire village. There was no water in the cottage or electricity, not even gas. Cooking was done in an oven by the fire, light was from oil lamps and cold washes were often sure to wake us up in the morning. The water was from a pump in the garden. The tiolet was at the bottom of the garden (we called it a thunder box) it was emptied by a man from the village. We used to love staying there, the food was fantastic and we were always ready for bed before dark. The cottages in LRTC remind me of those happy days.

Kate Robertson said...

Happy Birthday and Happy Anniversary too. I really enjoyed this post. I guess it was a travel back in time or something. You always write beautiful things.


Casey said...

Happy Birthday! Now that I have the time, I really need to start reading more. But it's also baseball season, so a great deal of my time is spent watching or listening to the Tigers games!

SAS said...

Have watched both series from the BBC and thought they were great! The romatic in me shining through! Will now look for the books. Maybe PBS will pick the series up.

Lila Rostenberg said...

You have a real treasure in that book! Thank-you for sharing the images which you could find. I read LRTC in the 1980's and began making "griddle scones" for my family. [I will have to reaseach the cookbook!]
Our PBS station is showing the BBC Larkrise drama every Sunday now. It remeinds me of the "Anne of Green Gables".
Re: London in WWII, we watched the DVD of "Mrs. Henderson Presents" with Judy Dench last night. It was wonderful.

ClausenFan said...

You mentioned George Clausen's picture "Bird Scaring", but misunderstood its significance. In fact he painted three versions of this subject, in 1885, 1889 and 1896 - two are in oils, one in watercolour. They depict a boy of school age who has probably skipped lessons to work temporarily as a "Crow Starver" or bird scarer for a farmer, earning up to six pence a day, which was a significant extra income for poor families. This activity is listed as one of the main reasons for truancy in English rural areas at that time and into the Edwardian period.
The boy was armed with a wooden rattle, much like old-time football supporters used - it was this rattle which was used to keep birds away from newly-planted crops; the fire was solely to keep the boy from freezing during long days in bleak and windswept fields (not gardens).

Craig Childress Johnson said...

What a glorious blog site you have up. I have just returned from world-wide wanderings that included a month in the West Country of England and Wales. A dear friend of mine in Wales gave me an original copy of Lark Rise To Candleford, still in clean wrappers. Leon is a professional artist of substantial reputation, as is his wife. We spent an hour discussing his favorite painting in the universe - Standhope Forbes "The Edge of the Woods" found in LRTC of all places. Your blog and a couple of others enabled me to just now find the actual original painting by Stanhope. I made a call to England and confirmed the existence and location of the painting. You can find me at if you wish to dabble in this happy little adventure.